Anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate Sabbath in Gaza
By The Associated Press and Haaretz Service http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1139332.html
A small group of ultra-Orthodox Jews were preparing Friday to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath in Gaza, in an unlikely show of support for Palestinians in the Hamas-run coastal territory.
Bearded and wearing black hats and coats, the four members of a tiny Jewish group vehemently opposed to Israel's existence were a rare sight in the poverty-stricken Palestinian territory.
Members of the Neturei Karta group have expressed support for the Iranian regime and for others who oppose the Jewish state, which they believe was established in violation of Jewish law...
"It's crucial that the people of Gaza understand the terrible tragedy here is not in the name of Judaism," said one of the men, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of New York City, as the four prepared to observe the Sabbath at a Gaza City hotel.
The four men are American and Canadian citizens. Israel bans its citizens from visiting the blockaded territory. Weiss and his comrades entered Gaza through a border crossing with Egypt.
This was not the first time Neturei Karta members visited the besieged strip, after a brief visit to Gaza in July of last year, when they met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh after crossing into the territory through Egypt.
Israel, which maintains a strict blockade of Gaza, would not let them cross through its passages with the territory.
"We feel your suffering, we cry your cry," Rabbi Weiss said at the time.
"It is your land, it is occupied, illegitimately and unjustly by people who stole it, kidnapped the name of Judaism and our identity," Weiss continued.
During their Thursday meeting, Haniyeh told them he held no grudge against Jews, but against the state of Israel, according to a Hamas Web site.
Neturei Karta, Aramaic for Guardians of the City, was founded some 70 years ago in Jerusalem by Jews who opposed the drive to establish the state of Israel, believing only the Messiah could do that. Estimates of the group's size range from a few hundred to a few thousand...
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It is doubtful if the number of immigrants exceeds the number of emigrants, which is generally in the neighborhood of about 17,000. The higher numbers were due in part to world recession but also to rising anti-Semitism in some countries, and the to efforts of Nefesh Be-Nefesh and the Jewish agency, as well as the relatively calm security situation. However, the immigration is nowhere near the 100,000 a year that Israel was getting from the former USSR in the 90s.
Israel is really not a bad place to live, but a lot of Jews prefer to live in places where they can complain about anti-Semitism.
For the first time in 10 years the number of immigrants to Israel has risen this year, according to Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.
In 2009, 16,244 people immigrated - a 17 percent jump over last year's 13,859.
The number of immigrants from English-speaking countries has also increased by 17 percent this year, from 4,511 to 5,294, said Eli Cohen, the director-general of the agency's aliyah department.
"After 10 years during which we saw less and less immigrants, now we see an increase," said Sharansky yesterday at a press conference at the Jewish Agency's Jerusalem headquarters. "This year there were more immigrants from the former Soviet Union, more immigrants from the United States, from Britain and from South Africa - there's an increase from almost everywhere."
The largest number of new immigrants still comes from the former Soviet Union, where the numbers increased by 21 percent from 5,867 to 7,120.
Sharansky and Landver attributed the climb to what the Jewish Agency calls its "Red Carpet" program, which includes so-called aliyah fairs for new arrivals during which they are assisted with their initial absorption, such as opening bank accounts, choosing health care providers, etc.
The numbers presented at yesterday's press conference include four planeloads of immigrants who are scheduled to arrive in Israel this week, but exclude Ethiopians who moved to Israel this year, as they did not immigrate according to the Law of Return but based on a special law, called the Law of Entrance.
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Nothing is more certain to arouse the ire of religious fanatics than a comment that gets too close to the truth.
Defending himself from scathing criticism for a video in which he refers to Jesus as "a model rabbi," a well-respected Anglo rabbi said this week that while his terminology was "inappropriate," the poorly edited video mauled his message. The current incident is the second time this year that Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the New York-born Orthodox rabbi of Efrat, had to clarify a controversial statement regarding Jewish-Christian relations.
In the video, Riskin says he has been "truly fascinated by the personality of Jesus, whom certainly to myself I have always referred to as Rabbi Jesus" ever since taking a university course about the gospels. "Because I think he is indeed a model rabbi in many counts and he lived the life of a Jewish rabbi in Israel in a very critical time in our history. And I have constantly come back to the study of his personality and his teachings, which are very strongly rooted in Talmudic teachings."
Several Orthodox Jewish Web sites reported about the 5-minute video. Calling it "shocking," the U.S.-based Yeshiva World News wrote that, while "according to a growing number of followers Rabbi Riskin has adopted a controversial position on Christianity - this latest video will prove to be the 'straw that broke the camel's back' according to many, and time will dictate the ramifications of this highly irregular documented statement of this highly respected rabbi's views on 'J[esus].'" Some readers commented online that Riskin's statements do not contradict Jewish theology and are in line with a revisionist view of Jesus. Others accused him of "heresy" and "demanded he be "be stripped of his clergy status at once, and banned from his community."
Back in June, Riskin was criticized for a video circulated by the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, in which he is heard saying that "it is critical that we resurrect God in this generation." After some Web sites suggested the video espoused heretical views, Riskin "immediately retracted the word 'resurrect,'" according to the Israel National News Web site. The rabbi admitted "it was definitely the wrong choice of words," the site reported. "I do recall, however, explaining afterwards - and this part was not shown on the video - that we have to rescue G-d."
In response to the current outrage, Riskin issued a statement Wednesday saying the video was "edited carelessly and posted on YouTube by an organization that omitted a significant part of my message." He explained, "The fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity, which I always emphasize in my talks with Christian groups, were completely absent from the edited version."
Riskin says that a segment was edited out of the film during which he "made specific reference to the fact that Jews can never accept Jesus as the Messiah" and that he "regret[s]" putting himself in a position where his words could be manipulated.
His "Rabbi Jesus" comment referred to the historical Jesus - who was not a "Christian" but a committed Jew, Riskin added, apparently alluding to the theory that Jesus' legacy was later falsified by the Apostle Paul. He referred to the historical personage as a "Rabbi Jesus" to illustrate that point, he said. "While I refer to Jesus poetically as 'Rabbi' Jesus, he was not a rabbi in the classical sense of the term. It was used only to explain to a Christian audience the Jewish Jesus, and in hindsight, the term was an inappropriate one to use."
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This proposal sounds like it was made in order to be refused. Benjamin Netanyahu must realize that an Egyptian-hosted peace summit is not the ideal thing for Israel, but it is certainly tempting bait. Mahmoud Abbas for his part, cannot negotiate with Israel seriously because of the reaction it would provoke from the Hamas and from his own camp. Netanyahu as well cannot make any serious proposals as long as his government depends primarily on right wing parties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later this month in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, government sources said Thursday.
"There is a possibility of a breakthrough surrounding the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office said earlier Thursday.
The Egyptian administration began efforts to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table following Netanyahu's recent visit in Cairo, the officials said.
"Israel's idea of an Egypt-hosted peace summit with Abbas was proposed during Netanyahu's talks with Mubarak," an Israeli official told Reuters. Another official confirmed Netanyahu had raised the summit idea.
They added that Abbas was expected to arrive in Cairo next week to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They said further that the Egyptian diplomacy was being closely coordinated with the American administration.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Abbas, said the region "will see important political activity in the next two weeks."
The plan is to send Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to Washington after Abbas meets with Mubarak, to brief the American administration on any progress.
The Egyptian initiative apparently stems from promises made by Netanyahu to Mubarak during his trip earlier this week regarding Israel's commitment to peace talks. Netanyahu presented Mubarak with agreements reached between Israel and the U.S. regarding the preconditions for talks, including the issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian demand to return to 1967 borders...
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Evidently a mistake. In Iran, good things happen only by mistake.
The Iranian football federation sent its Israeli counterpart a new year's greeting on Thursday, Army Radio reported, in what a Tehran official described as a mistake.
Mohammad Ali Ardebili, director of foreign relations for the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, told Army Radio that he had not intended to send the missive to the Israel Football Association.
"It is a greeting sent to every country in the world," Ardebili said. He quickly then inquired: "Are you talking from Israel? I can't speak with you. It's a mistake, it's a mistake."
The greeting was received in Israel by the head of the Israel Football Association's legal department, Amir Navon.
"He came into my office asking me if I thought it was a mistake," said body spokesman Gil Levanoni/ "So I told him that I didn't know, but that we should send in a reply."
Levanoni and Navon said they replied to the greeting with a "happy new year to all the good people of Iran," and said: "We also added a wink."
"We wrote them that we hoped that they would have a happy soccer year," Levanoni added."
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A youth identified initially by Israeli TV channel 1 as the grandson of rabbi Meir Kahaneh, founder of the Kach movement, was earlier arrested for the outrageous arson attack on the West Bank mosue in Yasuf. He has now been released. The story below does not given the name of suspect, because it is prohibited to publicize such information about minors. However the information that his father and grandfather were killed by terrorists fits the description. .
Last update - 20:49 31/12/2009
Settler teen arrested over West Bank mosque arson, then freed
By Chaim Levinson, Haaretz Correspondent
Israel Police on Thursday arrested a settler teen suspected of involvement in the torching of a West Bank mosque three weeks ago, but later released him saying they did not have enough evidence.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the youth was released after several hours of questioning. He would not say if the teen was still a suspect. He said the investigation is still in progress.
The teen, whose parents and grandfather were killed in Palestinian terror attacks, was arrested at the Tapuah Junction in the West Bank.
The vandalism at the mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf drew harsh rebuke from Israeli leaders, among them politicians and clergy. During the attack, the vandals torched books of the Koran and prayer carpets, and scrawled Nazi slogans in Hebrew across the walls.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger visited the mosque following the attack to express his condemnation.
"I came here to expression my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people," Metzger told the residents after he was escorted into the village under the protection of the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian police. "This is how the Holocaust began, the tragedy of the Jewish people of Europe."
A delegation of West Bank settlers, led by renowned peacemaker Rabbi Menachem Froman, brought copies of the Koran to the village to replace those lost in the fire.
Although they intended to enter the village as well, the delegates were held up by the Israel Defense Forces and carried out their meeting with the village elders at a nearby checkpoint.
Israel had suspected that settlers had carried out the arson to demonstrate their anger over the government's enforcement of a freeze in settlement construction
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Ismail Haniyeh declared to Israeli and other activists that they strengthen Hamas in its struggle to implement its program. The Hamas program as stated in their charter is the "liberation" of all of "Palestine" (Israel) and the annihilation of the Jewish people.
Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday told activists gathered on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Gaza Strip border that residents of the besieged territory had not given up hope and would never stop fighting for a state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
"Because of international solidarity and your support, we have become stronger," Haniyeh declared. "The Palestinian nation will never give up its national aspirations or its right to Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine and the Islamic people."
Some 1,000 people, among them all of Israel's Arab MKs and community leaders, gathered at the Israeli side of the Erez border crossing to express solidarity with the residents of Gaza, one year after Israel's offensive there. MK Taleb A-Sana relayed Haniyeh's message to the Israeli side via a mobile phone.
On the Gaza side of the border, nearly 100 international activists joined about 500 Palestinians, chanting and carrying signs denouncing the blockade.
During the rally, Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka directed harsh criticism at Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who he said enjoys "classical music and killing children in Gaza."
The terror emerging from the Gaza Strip was a result of Israel's actions against Palestinians, Zahalka told the protesters, who had convened to mark one year since Operation Cast Lead.
The Israeli Arab protesters waved the flag of the Palestine Liberation organization as they rallied against Israel's continued blockade of Gaza, accusing Israel of starving the Palestinian people.
The 86 international activists began touring the Gaza Strip on Thursday, in an expression of solidarity with Palestinians living there under the Israeli blockade.
Their visit, which coincides with one year since Israel's offensive against militants in the Strip, will see them meet with officials from the Islamist Hamas movement, which administers the salien.
They will also tour areas hit in the Israeli bombardments, visit Shifa hospital, and meet with community leaders, said Hamdi Shaath, the head of the pro-Hamas Committee to Defeat the Blockade.
The 86, part of a much large group of 1,300 activists, arrived in the Strip on Wednesday night, after spending several days in Cairo waiting for Egyptian authorities to allow them to cross into the enclave via the Rafah crossing point.
Tighe Berry, the spokesman of the group, said Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, had remained behind in Cairo
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JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli police say a teenager has been arrested in connection with the torching of a West Bank mosque earlier this month.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed on Thursday that a minor was being questioned in the attack, believed to have been the work of Jewish extremists.
Rosenfeld says undercover agents arrested the teen at a West Bank junction. He says it was the first arrest since the December 11 blaze, but had no further details.
Authorities suspect Jewish extremists carried out the attack in retaliation for a government-ordered slowdown in West Bank settlement construction.
The attackers burned prayer carpets and a book stand with Muslim holy texts, leaving Hebrew graffiti on the floor.
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Iraq has become invisible to most of the world - a hole in the map of foreign offices, especially the US State Department. But people live there, and they are getting killed pretty regularly.
Hey Barack, are you listening? USA will make peace between Israelis and Palestinians just like they did in Iraq.
Barack Obama may not be listening, but America's allies are. Iraq is an object lesson in what happens to places that Americans get tired of.
Say, what's the latest on Tiger Woods?
Iraqi police officials say most of the 21 people killed in a pair of bombings in western Iraq were policemen.
Lt. Col. Imad al-Fahdawi said the deputy provincial commander was among the 13 policemen killed by Wednesday's blasts in Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad. Another police official says the provincial police commander was wounded.
The police official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Fahdawi said many of the policemen were killed by a car bomb at a checkpoint near the local provincial government headquarters. Others died after a suicide bomber detonated his vest as they rushed to respond to the initial explosion.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Staggered explosions killed 21 people Wednesday and injured the governor of Anbar, Iraqi officials said, in the latest violence to roil a turbulent province that is still struggling to stamp out the remnants of the al-Qaida insurgency.
The western province of Anbar is strategically important because it was once the heartland of support for al-Qaida linked militants before American officials paid Iraqi fighters to join a pro-government force.
Police official Lt. Col. Imad al-Fahdawi said two bombs exploded in Anbar's capital of Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad. He says a suicide bomber in a car caused the first blast on the main road near the provincial administration buildings.
Gov. Qassim al-Fahdawi, the deputy police chief and other officials came to inspect the damage, the police official said, when a suicide bomber on foot detonated a vest full of explosives nearby.
The deputy police chief was killed and the governor and other officials wounded, al-Fahdawi said. Police have put a curfew in place, he added.
Dr. Ahmed Abid Mohammed said 21 people had been killed and 48 injured. He said the governor had suffered burns on his face, injuries to his abdomen and other areas.
"The leadership in the province have requested support from U.S. forces in response to the attacks near the provincial government center in Ramadi," said military spokesman Lt. Col. Curtis Hill. He said American forces were helping evacuate casualties, establish security and forensic investigation.
There are 18 provincial governors in Iraq. Anbar is primarily Sunni, the same sect of Islam as former dictator Saddam Hussein. The province was the former stronghold of the insurgency before the U.S. military began paying fighters to participate in the pro-government Sons of Iraq program, also known as the Awakening Council.
The Sons of Iraq are widely credited with stabilizing the country after joining up with U.S. and Iraqi forces in the anti-al-Qaida drive about three years ago. But they have been hit by a steady barrage of revenge attacks since then and five of them were killed at a checkpoint Tuesday in central Iraq.
The Sunni fighters have expressed fears that they will be sidelined by the mainly Shiite government after the American forces leave. Shiites are the majority in Iraq, and insurgents have repeatedly bombed Shiite religious processions in an effort to re-ignite the sectarian violence that dragged Iraq to the brink of civil war two years ago.
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The State of Emergency law is often used by the Egyptian security services as a pretext for arbitrary arrests of dissident groups or those believed to be members of such groups. In such cases, the victims are detained without legal justification and held for long periods of time without trials based on the assumption that they are a threat to national security. Within the prison themselves, many of these political prisoners are exposed to ill-treatment, humiliation and torture, especially those who require medical care are often denied this basic privilege and in some cases die. On 17 October 2009, the Egyptian authorities arrested Magdi Hamdi Saqr, who suffers from serious health difficulties, and is now detained in Damanhour prison, northern Egypt.
Mr Saqr suffers from several medical conditions, including the hardening of the arteries, failure to the coronary artery and frequent chest pains. Before his arrest, doctors advised him to avoid strenuous activity and to take rest as much as possible. His current state of health is dire, and the living conditions at Damanhour prison have only worsened his condition. Doctors, who are also his inmates, have tried to help; however, they have been unable to do so due to a lack of medical resources. Current fears are that could die if he does not urgently receive medical attention.
A request for his release was last submitted on 5 November 2009, however, the authorities unequivocally refused. Alkarama submitted his case as an urgent appeal to the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions (SUMX) today, 8 December 2009.
Alkarama calls upon the Egyptian authorities to release Magdi Hamdi Saqr and therefore reminds the authorities that Mr Saqr may die inside Damahour prison due to lack of proper medical care.
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16 December 2009
Alkarama has received an important update regarding Ziad Wasef Ramadan, a Syrian arrested in 2005. Following Ziad Ramadan's first family-visit in over two years on 23 August 2009, reports now confirm that Mr Ramadan's health has severely deteriorated after being subjected to continuous solitary confinement since September 2007. Ziad Ramadan's family had previously visited him on 22 September 2007, after he was transferred to the Palestinian Branch of Damascus prison, in September 2007. Up until their most recent visit, all visitation requests had been refused.
Mr Ramadan, a native of Homs, Syria, was originally arrested on 20 September 2005 as a suspect in the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri, former Lebanese prime minister. Alkarama had sent his case to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on 14 September 2009, asking them to render an Opinion recognising his detention as arbitrary.
Alkarama is currently working with the UN special procedures as well as other human rights NGOs to ensure that the Syrian authorities respect their obligations under international law with regards to Mr Ramadan.
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Diplomats are concerned about an intelligence report that says Iran is trying to import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Such a deal would be significant because Tehran appears to be running out of that material, which it needs to feed its uranium enrichment program.
A summary of the report obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday said the deal could be completed within weeks. It said Tehran was willing to pay $450 million, or close to 315 million euros, for the shipment.
An official from the country that drew up the report said Kazakh government employees acting on their own were behind the deal. The official demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing intelligence matters.
After-hours calls put in to offices of Kazatomprom, the Kazak state uranium company, in Kazakhstan and Moscow, were not answered. There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.
Iran is under three sets of Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze its enrichment program and related activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons. Tehran denies such aspirations.
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JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Aliyah to Israel from the United States rose by 19 percent this year over 2008, setting a 36-year record.
Some 3,324 immigrants to Israel in 2009 came from the United States. Some 3,767 came from all of North America, compared with 3,124 in 2008.
The 2009 total is the highest aliyah from North America in 36 years, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
New immigrants from North America in 2009 participated in several Jewish Agency absorption programs. Some 300 attended Kibbutz ulpan; 90 attended Ulpan Etzion and 200 are enrolled in degree studies through the Student Authority, according to the Jewish Agency.
Some 200 olim from North America, including 81 singles, are scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday as part of a joint Jewish Agency-Nefesh B'Nefesh flight. Another 210 from South Africa, France and the United Kingdom were scheduled to arrive this week on Jewish Agency-arranged flights.
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This simulation made headlines recently, because it resulted in a scenario where the US was trying to cut a deal with Iran at the expense of Israel.
The simulation is only as good as the information that is fed into it and it reflects the assumptions and perceptions and information of the participants, not necessarily reality. As noted below for example, participants became fixated on the Vienna agreement, because that was the biggest piece of concrete information that they had. It is natural.
What we can say is that Israeli security mavens have a fear of being abandoned or betrayed by the United States and do not trust them, and that they sense what is obvious, that neither Israel nor the United States have clear goals with respect to Iran.
What they may have missed is that the US has its own accounts to settle with Iran, and that there are probably those who understand that the Iranian regime is intrinsically a strategic threat to the United States. There is no deal for the United States to make with Iran, because the main declared goal of the Iranian regime is to eliminate the United States as a world power. The United States has always been the "great satan" in Iranian propaganda, and when Ahmadinejad called for a world without Zionism, he actually said, "a world without Zionism and without America."
Despite the tendency to denote any simulation exercise on security issues a "war game," the recent simulation designed and held at INSS did not focus on the option of a military attack. Rather, it developed the scenario of a bilateral US-Iranian negotiation over Iran's nuclear program.  With Barack Obama – in line with his self-imposed end of the year deadline – currently poised to assess the progress made with his diplomatic outreach to Iran, the importance of understanding the implications of a possible direct bilateral dynamic comes into sharper focus.
The purpose of this exercise was to estimate the trends of a possible US-Iranian negotiation dynamic in order to evaluate the best response policy for Israel. Taking part were current and former senior personnel from the Israeli defense establishment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the academic world, including experts from INSS. The three main teams that took part in the exercise simulated the US, Iran, and Israel. The American and Iranian teams were further divided into upfront negotiations teams and behind-the-scenes "decision makers." Joining them was a large group of additional players representing Europe, Russia, China, the GCC, Egypt, and the IAEA.
The opening scenario created the conditions for the onset of a bilateral US-Iranian negotiation sparked by the nuclear crisis, but which would include a broader set of issues that went beyond the nuclear issue per se.
As the exercise developed, however, it became clear that the participants limited the declared general scope of the game, and became fixated on the situation as it was in early November. As such, the proposed Vienna Agreement on the supply of fuel to the Tehran Research Reactor took center stage in discussions. This persisted in spite of attempts by game coordinators to expand the talks to the more general issues, including the suspension of enrichment in Iran.
At a later stage in the exercise, an explosion was reported at the Arak heavy water production plant in Iran, and although whether this was an operational accident or deliberate sabotage was undetermined, the Iranian team turned the incident to its advantage by claiming Israeli aggression against Iran.
Although the event was a simulation exercise only, some important insights into the real world emerged.
Regarding Iran, its main strength is that it has a clearly defined ultimate aim: obtaining nuclear weapons capability. This aim guides its tactics in confronting the international community. In contrast, while in general terms the US as well as Israel wants to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state, it lacks well-defined aims and consolidated strategies for dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue. What we observed is that this situation played to Iran's advantage, allowing it to determine to a large degree the pace and even the content of the talks. It used tactics of playing for time and flooding the US with vast amounts of irrelevant information to delay substantive discussion. Iran was also minded to form international coalitions and acquire allies, and demonstrated much flexibility to changing situations.
The Iranians felt superior and displayed this edge towards the Americans in the negotiations game. The US in general and President Obama in particular was perceived as weak. The Iranians estimated that because of internal and international considerations Obama would not dare launch a military attack on Iran's nuclear installations. Nor in their view did Israel pose a real threat. And overall, it was emphasized through the Iranian team in the simulation that Iran saw no way that it could be forced to suspend its ongoing uranium enrichment project unless the regime itself was put in danger. In this context, it was apparent that a military attack on Iran that is not preceded by an intensive campaign to sway world public opinion could cause severe harm to Israel and/or to the US, immunize Iran against further attacks, and generally strengthen Tehran's position.
For its part, the US, rather than taking the lead in the talks, was relegated to reacting to Iran's actions and positions. Following US responses both to Iran and to the increasing European and Israeli demands that they be partners in the negotiations decisions, it became clear that while Obama may be the dominant figure in the conflict with Iran, he appears neither able nor willing to take major decisions on this issue.
As in the case of the US, Israel did not display a clear definition of its ultimate aims regarding Iran, which could range from the dismantlement of the nuclear program to a change of regime. Consequently, there was no clear definition of how to attain its goals. Sensing its isolation from the world's actions towards Iran, Israel devoted much attention to influencing the US position, while making little effort to advance diplomatic moves with other potential partners, in Europe and in the region. This persisted despite its understanding of the US administration's limitations in negotiating with Iran, and can be attributed to Israel's own difficulties in creating and utilizing diplomatic opportunities. Israel became a perceptible burden on the US in the sense that its threats of military action demanded that the US devote energy to neutralize this possibility. Conversely, the lack of credibility of these threats in US eyes meant they could not be used by the US as a possible "stick" in its negotiations with Iran.
Returning from the exercise to the real world, the West remains entrenched in its efforts to obtain Iran's agreement to the Vienna proposal, Iran is becoming more adamant in its refusal while apparently still seeking a compromise solution, and more severe sanctions are yet to be seen. Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear program proceeds relentlessly. The Vienna Agreement, even if implemented (and this is a very big if), will do nothing to slow down the enrichment process and obstruct the inevitability of Iran's nuclear weapons capability.
Where does this leave Obama? This is the big question on the eve of 2010. If he is serious about negotiations with Iran, he must improve his negotiations strategy. At the same time, perhaps he is simply not serious enough about arriving at a negotiated outcome. It is up to Israeli decision makers to assess which alternative is most likely, and on that basis develop Israel's own approach.
 We are grateful to NEST Consulting-Negotiations Strategies for its collaboration on the exercise, carried out on November 1, 2009.
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Robert Berger | Jerusalem 28 December 2009
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak says Iran is moving quickly toward the "point of no return." Speaking behind closed doors to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Barak said Iran will have the technology to build a nuclear bomb by early next year and could produce one in 2011.
Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz is a former chairman of the committee.
"Iran is trying to gain nuclear weapons. And if nothing serious, nothing dramatic will be done by the West, it will get there in a year or two," he said.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but Steinitz says Israel has proof that the Islamic Republic is building the atom bomb.
"There are good, I would say even excellent evidence and intelligence showing that this is the case. And this is crystal clear to all Western intelligence services," he added.
Israel is alarmed by Iran's recent test firing of its longest-range missile and previous threats by its president to wipe the Jewish state "off the map." So Israeli leaders are calling for tougher international sanctions on Iran before it is too late.
But Israel has warned time and again that if diplomacy fails, it might launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
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The answer to the question is self-evident. He didn't climb a high tree accidentally. He made a condition that he knew Israel would not be able to meet.
Palestinian Affairs: Why is Abbas stonewalling?
Dec. 24, 2009
Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST
Hardly a day passes when Mahmoud Abbas does not reiterate his refusal to return to the negotiating table with Israel unless certain conditions are fulfilled. This has been Abbas's position since US President Barack Obama entered office earlier this year.
By setting conditions for resuming the peace talks, Abbas appears to have climbed a very high tree - one that he finds too difficult to climb down from.
Abbas and his top aides point the finger of blame at Obama. They point out that almost immediately after he entered the White House, he demanded from Israel a freeze of settlement construction.
In an interview published this week in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, Abbas explained that he could not afford a situation in which Obama appears more Palestinian than the Palestinians.
"Obama laid down the condition of halting the settlements completely," he noted. "What was I supposed to say to him? Should I say this is too much?"
Responding to criticism that he had never made such a demand before Obama was elected, Abbas said, "Halting the settlements is the second article of the road map and it's something I want. At the end they blame me, and they say that the condition of halting settlement construction was not on offer during the negotiations with former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Bear in mind that at every meeting with Olmert, the issue of the settlements was discussed."
ABBAS SEEMS to be more worried about his credibility than the construction in the settlements. In the past year, his standing among his constituents was severely undermined because of his policy of zigzagging.
First, Abbas told the Palestinians that he would never meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu unless he recognized the two-state solution and halted all settlement construction in the West Bank. However, under pressure from Obama, Abbas was forced to sit with Netanyahu at UN headquarters in New York.
Second, Abbas's failure to back a resolution endorsing the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead drew strong condemnations from many Palestinians, including some belonging to his Fatah faction. As the outcry in the PA territories and the Arab and Islamic countries intensified, Abbas rescinded his decision and decided to back the resolution that was brought before the UN Human Rights Council. But as far as his critics and enemies are concerned, it was too little and too late.
Third, Abbas's frequent threats to resign or not run in a new election are no longer taken seriously, not even by some of his top advisers. As one aide put it, "Abbas has threatened to resign at least 40 times in the past few months alone."
Abbas's empty threats and zigzagging have hurt his reputation so badly that now he's being forced to play tough with Israel and the US. To demonstrate this uncompromising approach, Abbas most recently came up with a new condition for resuming the talks: That Israel and the international community recognize beforehand the 1967 boundaries as the official and final borders of the future Palestinian state.
Abbas's aides in Ramallah say that he needs a "major concession" from Israel before he returns to the negotiations. "President Abbas does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past," explained one aide. "If he succumbs and resumes the talks with Israel unconditionally, our people will throw him out."
According to one of his advisers, Abbas has reached the conclusion that there's nothing to talk about with the Netanyahu government, especially when ministers like Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya'alon and Bennie Begin are among the prime minister's inner circle. To support his argument that there's no peace partner in Israel, Abbas shows visitors a copy of an article written by journalist Gideon Levy in Haaretz, entitled: "Netanyahu should admit Israel doesn't want peace."
Abbas also appears to be very disappointed with the Obama administration, on which he was pinning high hopes in the beginning. The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah was seriously hoping that Obama would force Israel not only to freeze settlement construction, but to pull back to the pre-1967 borders, including the entire eastern part of Jerusalem. But now Abbas and his officials are accusing Obama of "caving in to pressure from the Jewish lobby" by endorsing Netanyahu's stance. In this regard, the PA officials say, Obama has shown that his policy toward the Middle East is almost the same as that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Abbas is now hoping that the Europeans will counterbalance the US "bias" in favor of Israel by supporting the Palestinian leadership's demands. As one official put it, "The Americans can be on Israel's side, while the Europeans will be on our side. Let's turn it into a conflict between the Europeans and Americans."
It's hard to predict Abbas's next move as the man has been anything but consistent in his statements. Yet the question that many Palestinians have been asking themselves is not whether the talks with Israel would be resumed or not, but if there's anything left to negotiate about. And a growing number of Palestinians have long been wondering whether the man who is often referred to as the "governor of the West Bank," and whose term in office expired about a year ago, really has a mandate to negotiate on their behalf.
Continued (Permanent Link)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the "time is ripe" for renewing peace negotiations with the Palestinians, adding that he planned to raise the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Cairo this week.
"I hope we have reached the time to renew the peace process," Netanyahu told diplomats gathered at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem. "The time for excuses is over. Now is the time for action."
Former justice minister Yossi Beilin told the Meretz party leadership on Sunday that Netanyahu was close to finalizing an agreement with the administration of United States President Barack Obama for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The process would last two years, according to Beilin, and would discuss the Palestinian demand for borders based on the 1967 lines and will include an exchange of territory and suitable security arrangements.
These are the terms of the agreement being hammered out between Netanyahu and the U.S. government on Israeli negotiations with the Palestinian Authority - that Netanyahu is willing to agree that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will last for two years, Beilin said.
The Prime Minister's Office said Beilin's comments were "unfounded," adding that discussions were ongoing but no agreement has been reached.
However, when asked about Beilin's statements, a senior U.S. administration official said: "Things are moving in this direction, but the deal isn't done yet. There are several issues still outstanding."
Netanyahu leaves tomorrow for talks in Cairo and appears set to present the agreements to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Beilin, who revealed Netanyahu's plan to declare a 10-month freeze on settlement construction a week before the prime minister made the announcement, based his statement on information he received from talks with Israeli and foreign officials. He said at a closed meeting of the Meretz leadership that Netanyahu and his special envoy for negotiations with the Palestinians, Yitzhak Molcho, had completed most of the work on the terms of reference for negotiations with the Palestinians during meetings with U.S. envoy George Mitchell.
At the meeting, Beilin described what he said were the agreements Netanyahu has reached with the Obama administration:
* Timetable: Netanyahu is willing to accept the U.S. proposal to allot 24 months to talks, but doesn't want to announce that the goal is to reach a deal by the end of that period.
* Borders: Netanyahu has agreed that the goal of the talks is to end the conflict and reconcile the Palestinian position of establishing an independent state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with the exchange of agreed-upon territory, and the Israeli position of a Jewish state with recognized and secure borders that will meet Israel's security needs.
* Jerusalem: Netanyahu has agreed that the status of Jerusalem will be discussed in the negotiations, but has not agreed to any preconditions on the issue.
* Refugees: Netanyahu said he was willing to discuss the refugee issue only in a multilateral framework.
* Previous agreements: Netanyahu is willing to commit to all previously signed agreements.
* Arab peace initiative: Netanyahu is not willing to support the plan, but is willing to say both sides are taking into consideration international initiatives that contribute to the advancement of the peace process, such as the Arab peace initiative.
Mitchell is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the second week of January to complete talks on the terms of reference for negotiations, Beilin said.
He warned Meretz leaders that Netanyahu may try to counteract the agreement by appeasing the right, which could undermine peace talks.
"If Netanyahu acts as he did with the freeze, when he approved hundreds of new housing units, it will wreck any chance of renewing negotiations," Beilin said.
Beilin said Netanyahu's position has encouraged the United States about the possibility of renewing negotiations soon.
"Their primary effort is to convince the Palestinians to accept it," said Beilin. "The American feeling is that Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] will agree to this formulation."
Continued (Permanent Link)
It really is time for religious Zionists to do something about the crazies who blacken Zionism. Isi Leibler is right. But more than that, it is long past time for the rest of the Zionst movement and the Israeli government to take effective and vigorous action to stamp out fanaticism, violence and lawlessness in the West Bank ("Judea and Samaria").
Refusal to evacuate settlements is the mildest transgression of the zealots. Some deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state and plan a "State of Judea." Some have thrown rocks at IDF soldiers. Many others regularly throw rocks at Palestinian schoolchildren. Rabbis, whose salaries are paid by the state, tell the world that Judaism considers that it is OK to kill "goyim." Violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. Surely it is the job of the state and of all of us to maintain law and decency, to ensure that Zionism is not demoniszed by "Zionists" and to protect innocent people. Why put the entire burden on religious Zionists?
Dec. 23, 2009
Isi Leibler , THE JERUSALEM POST
Religious Zionists are confronted by an unenviable challenge which could permanently undermine their status in Israel. From being regarded by the mainstream as the voice of religious moderation and a force of societal unification - whose youth have earned the reputation as role models of devotion and dedication to the state and its defense - they are now teetering on marginalization at best, and stigmatized as zealots at worst.
The current impasse was an inevitable consequence of edicts issued by a number of rabbis proclaiming that forfeiture of territory in the Land of Israel constitutes a breach of Halacha. These rabbis refused to consider any exceptions to this decree - not even for pikuah nefesh, the requirement to safeguard human life, which overrides most halachic injunctions.
Nor were they willing to respect the authority of the majority of their rabbinical colleagues, who disagreed with their interpretation of Jewish law and also recognized the potential societal polarization it would create.
Indeed, such polarization came strongly to the fore in 2005, when former prime minister Ariel Sharon used IDF combat troops to implement the disengagement from Gaza. Among these were religious soldiers, many from settler families. That they were obliged to forcibly evacuate settlements naturally evoked bitterness and resentment. These emotions were subsequently compounded when it turned out that the whole endeavor only served to embolden the jihadists, who transformed the evacuated areas into missile-launching sites from which to attack Israeli civilians.
Now, a mere four years later, the settlement freeze has caused settlers to become apprehensive that another displacement is pending. It was in this context that small groups of hesder soldiers from the Shimshon and Nahshon battalions unfurled banners during military ceremonies proclaiming that they would never again take part in IDF evacuations of settlements.
They were jailed for insubordination.
Whereas most hesder rabbis and religious-Zionist spokesmen condemned or distanced themselves from these actions, a number of rabbis, headed by a rather unworldly Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of the Har Bracha Yeshiva, not only endorsed their actions but told students they would be breaching Halacha if they were to obey orders to evacuate settlements.
This led to hysterical media accusations against the entire hesder movement, and accusations that rabbis were taking over the IDF. Rabbis were even blamed for creating the climate for the recent desecration of the mosque in Yasuf, despite the fact that they were at the forefront of the nation's condemnation of that despicable vandalism.
In an attempt to stave off confrontation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave Rabbi Melamed every opportunity to backtrack with dignity. But Melamed rebuffed Barak's request for a meeting with undue arrogance, retorting: "I don't work for the defense minister." Fearing negative repercussions on army morale if he failed to act, Barak took the unprecedented step of severing the IDF relationship with Melamed's yeshiva. His response was to accuse Barak of "blood libeling." Regrettably, initially most hesder rabbis - including moderates - were reluctantly dragged into supporting Melamed. And more than 100 hesder yeshiva graduates announced that unless the army rescinded its decision to cut off the Har Bracha Yeshiva, they would refuse orders when called up for reserve duty. Now, belatedly, the rabbis have succeeded in pressuring Rabbi Melamed to withdraw his call on soldiers to disobey orders, but the damage has been done.
IN THE past, religious Zionists accepted the rulings of their rabbis on halachic questions, but refused to take instructions from them on social and political matters. This approach is now being challenged by an increasing number of rabbis, particularly in the hesder yeshivot.
However, the current debate is not as black and white as protagonists from both sides claim. Even IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has repeatedly affirmed that a conscripted army like the IDF, which is continuously engaged in wars and other violent confrontations with deadly terrorists, should not be used by the state as a vehicle for evacuating civilians from their homes.
In most countries such activities are clear-cut civil issues and it is the police or other state-controlled entity that are tasked with implementing such policies. That may be difficult or even impossible in Israel. But there is surely a lack of compassion in forcing soldiers who hail from settlements to forcibly evacuate neighbors, friends and even their own family members from homes which the state not only sanctioned but promoted until the moment that a political decision was made to unilaterally withdraw from them and hand them over to the Palestinians.
Furthermore, religious soldiers are not the first group of inappropriately named "refuseniks" to emerge from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor are their rabbis the first figures of moral and intellectual authority to call upon their "flocks" to disobey orders. Take, for example, the hundred or so university professors who exhorted their students to refuse to serve in the "army of the occupation." Even though rabbis undoubtedly carry greater weight with their students than professors, the double standard here is unmistakable. While no action was taken against universities for failing to take disciplinary action against such academics, Rabbi Melamed - who consistently remained adamant that his students serve in the IDF - was penalized for telling them to refuse to evacuate settlements.
This is not to suggest that there is room for sectarian militias in an army, certainly not in the IDF. In the absence of utter discipline, the military would be dysfunctional, to say the least, and the country endangered. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, "If you want to close down the IDF, then promote refusal to obey orders, which could lead to the collapse of the state."
Religious Zionists - whose children, including those in hesder institutions, have volunteered for combat units in numbers greatly disproportionate to their population - understand this all too well. This was evident by their reluctance, in spite of great anguish, to defy orders during disengagement. It is still evident today. The fact is that the vast majority of religious Zionists are pained and infuriated by the recent behavior of Melamed and other rabbis - behavior which has jeopardized their highly sensitive relationship with the state carefully nurtured over the years.
The onus to correct this rests on the religious-Zionist community as a whole. It is urgent for them to put their house in order.
This does not deny them their democratic right to oppose such actions. But they should do so by fighting the battle in the civil-political arena where it belongs. With this right, however, comes responsibility - that of publicly denouncing anyone, rabbis included, who encourages soldiers to espouse insubordination which could lead to chaos within the IDF.
This will require courage and determination, particularly by moderate religious-Zionist laymen. These represent the vast majority of religious Zionists whose commitment to the state is unconditional, but have hitherto lacked the backbone to resist, condemn and ostracize the extremists. They must do so now, before this hesder-IDF imbroglio spins out of control, endangering the entire religious-Zionist enterprise. This would represent a great loss not only for the IDF, but for the entire nation.
This article can also be read at
Continued (Permanent Link)
It took Iranians a long time to figure out that a regime that murders people, dictates how they dress, hangs Bahai and homosexuals and risks military confrontation with the US just might be worse than the regime of the Shah.
Latest reports claim as many as ten were killed in the recent demonstrations.
Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency has their own axe to grind. Quoth Reuters:
The post-election turmoil has also made Iranian officials unable to resolve a dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, which the West fears is a cover to build bombs.
Reuters has no evidence at all for any role of the "post-election turmoil" in the Iranian nuclear dispute. The Iranian government has been absolutely consistent, before and after the election, in insisting on its legitimate right to hide nuclear installations from the IAEA and continue with its uranium enrichment program. They never even hinted that they would stop this program.
Reformist Iranian cleric Mehdi Karoubi condemned the killing of eight protesters during Shiite Islam's most important observance a day earlier, saying the government was even more brutal than the cruel regime that was ousted by the Islamic Revolution three decades ago.
Iranian police confirmed that five people died in Tehran and at least another three in the city of Tabriz when pro-reform protesters fought security forces on Sunday, the most violent clashes since a contested June 12 presidential vote sparked political turmoil across the Islamic Republic.
"What has happened to this religious system that it orders the killing of innocent people during the holy day of Ashura?" moderate cleric Karoubi, who came fourth in the election, said in a statement, the Jaras website reported.
The shah, who was overthrown in 1979, was widely hated, and comparing a rival to him is a serious, though common, insult in Iranian politics.
Opposition websites said police opened fire on protesters in central Tehran. Eight people were killed in the capital and other Iranian cities when tens of thousands of opposition backers took to the streets, they said.
The deaths were the first in street protests since the immediate aftermath of the disputed June election.
Among the dead was opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew, whose death was described as a "martyrdom" by a Mousavi ally. State television said "unknown assailants" killed Ali Habibi Mousavi Khamene.
Police said investigations were under way into the suspicious deaths and that 300 protesters were arrested, adding that dozens of members of the security forces were injured.
State television said in a headline that "police deny involvement in killings", and said that those detained included members of a an exiled opposition group, Mujahideen Khalq Organisation (MKO). It quoted a senior police official as saying security forces had not used weapons.
Jaras said opposition politician Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the banned Freedom Movement and foreign minister in Iran's first government after the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah, was detained early on Monday at his home.
Yazdi, who was also detained after the June presidential poll, is an important opposition voice in Iran but has no influence on state policy and limited popular support.
Jaras said police shot and killed four protesters in central Tehran on Sunday and that unrest had spread to other parts of Iran, including the holy city of Qom, Shiraz, Isfahan, Najafabad, Mashhad and Babol.
The reports could not be independently verified because foreign media are banned from covering protests.
The White House condemned the "unjust suppression" of civilians by the Iranian government and said the United States was on the side of protesters.
The killings showed that the confrontation between the opposition and the clerical and political establishment had entered a volatile phase, in which the security forces appeared determined to stamp out the reformist movement.
A hardline clerical group in Qom condemned the "sedition by rioters" during the Shi'ite Muslim religious ritual of Ashura, the official IRNA news agency said.
"The association of Qom theologians ... ask officials to identify those behind yesterday's events and take appropriate measures to firmly encounter and punish them according to legal and religious standards," a statement said.
The disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposing deepening divisions in its ruling elite and setting off a wave of protests that the opposition says left over 70 people dead.
Officials say the death toll was half that number, including members of a pro-government Islamic militia.
The post-election turmoil has also made Iranian officials unable to resolve a dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, which the West fears is a cover to build bombs. Iran denies this.
(Editing by Jon Boyle)
Continued (Permanent Link)
Quite a day in Iran. New York Times reports that Basiji militia stopped a speech by former President Khatam, and Guardian reports that nine people in total were killed in protests in Tehran and other cities.
Opposition leader Mousavi's nephew 'among the fatalities' as Tehran and other cities erupt in protest and violence on holy day
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 27 December 2009 16.18 GMT
The nephew of Iran's reformist opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was reported to be among at least nine people killed after the streets of Tehran and other cities erupted in violent clashes between security forces and protesters.
Ali Mousavi, 35 and a father of two, was reportedly shot through the heart after police opened fire during disturbances in Tehran's Enghelab Square.
The authorities tonight tried to assert control over Tehran by reportedly declaring a 7pm curfew and outlawing all gatherings of more than three people, a source inside the capital told the Guardian.
The move followed announcements by opposition supporters of plans to meet in some of the city's main squares and parks to mark Sham-e Ghariban, which is part of the Ashura ceremonies.
News of Mousavi's nephew's death, reported by the reformist website Parlemannews, was certain to send shock waves through Iran's opposition Green Movement.
There were reports of at least four other fatalities in Tehran and four more in Tabriz as tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered for the Shia Ashura ceremonies and to voice anger against the government.
Parlemannews reported that Mousavi had gone to Ebn-e Sina Hospital, where the body of his nephew had been taken. He was accompanied by the dead man's parents and fellow reformist politicians.
Rah-e Sabz, another reformist website, reported large crowds of people moving towards Ebn-e Sina Hospital in a show of solidarity with Mousavi after the death.
Rah-e Sabz also reported at least four other people were killed in the capital, including an elderly man who was shot through the forehead at a crossroads in Tehran city centre. Two others were said to have been shot nearby at Kalej bridge, in Enghelab Street. Rah-e Sabz, citing witnesses, said crowds held up the elderly man and started chanting slogans against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Another person was reportedly killed after being beaten on the head with a baton, according to Rah-e Sabz.
Meanwhile, Rouydad News, another opposition site, reported that four people were killed in the northern city of Tabriz.
Crowds prevented security forces from taking away those wounded in the Tehran shootings. According to other eyewitness reports, members of the hardline Basij militia attacked demonstrators with daggers and knives.
Disturbances were also reported in Isfahan, Shiraz, Masshad, Arak and Najafabad, where the Rah-e Sabz described the situation as "severe".
Najafabad, birthplace of the dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died last Sunday, has witnessed several outbreaks of unrest in the past week.
Today's religious ceremonies – marking the 7th-century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hossein – coincides with the ritual seven-day mourning ceremonies for Montazeri, who had repeatedly criticised the government and denounced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election last summer as invalid.
Ashura ceremonies commonly feature vast crowds of people marching and beating their chests in memory of Imam Hossein, who is seen as a martyr against oppressive government. This year the opposition pledged to use the holy day to voice continued opposition to the government.
The authorities responded by warning of a huge crackdown. Hospitals and emergency services were put on alert to expect large-scale casualties.
The authorities are taking a risk in using lethal force against protesters during the Islamic month of Moharram, during which war and bloodshed is deemed to be religiously haram, or forbidden. It raises the likelihood of a series of mourning cycles, as required by Shia tradition. It was such a mourning cycle that fatally undermined the Shah's regime when it tried to suppress demonstrations in 1978.
Continued (Permanent Link)
Obama trying to have a dialogue with Ahmadinejad beats any of these stories....
Date Posted: 2009-12-22 19:39:16
Israel is not just the place of stories about settlement freezes and army operations.
This unique country of 7 million people has its fair share of zany tales; here are a few from 2009.
The prize for weirdest move taken by Israeli politicians in 2009 probably goes to Netanya's city elders, who in August decided to dress up the city center with a fresh coat of bright purple paint on the main thoroughfare. By October the pricy paint job had faded in the Middle Eastern sun, reverting to black asphalt. A close runner-up in the category goes to the Hadera municipality, where a $5 million facelift for the city's congested central traffic circle added not just entry and exit lanes, but planned to have traffic lights playing Hebrew songs.
The award for the strangest Supreme Court case goes to an Israeli named Shlomo Avni, who petitioned the high court for the right to be eaten by wild animals after his death, saying he was only repaying a debt to nature as a lifetime consumer in the food chain. In their 772-word decision, three Supreme Court judges wished the 80-year-old plaintiff a long life and unanimously rejected Avni's petition. The justices quoted Jeremiah 9:21 and the prophet's warning of dreadful times when "carcasses of men fall as dung upon the open field." Avni said he'd take his case to the international court at The Hague.
The best item related to Israel's water crisis goes to the residents of a north Tel Aviv apartment building who found themselves paying huge water bills that were 10 to 100 times those of similar dwellings. After investigation, it was discovered that an underground connection from the apartment house was watering an adjacent municipal park.
While 2009 demonstrated no shortage of silly two-bit crooks and goofy cops -- including one nearsighted specimen who ticketed a driver because her Saint Bernard wasn't wearing a seatbelt -- the strangest theft occurred at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital. The hospital staff was puzzled when a huge oil painting by a well-known Israeli artist vanished from the walls of a well-trafficked corridor. Before they could canvas the hospital for the missing canvas, another large painting by another well-known Israeli artist disappeared, and then another canvas 24 hours later. Security cameras revealed that the same middle-aged woman had nonchalantly been taking down the canvases and coolly walking out the front door, no questions asked. She hung the works in her nearby apartment.
One candidate in the Softhearted Sabra category stands out among many. A court re-possessor who knocked on the door of a poor family in the western Galilee took one look around at the impoverished household and made a snap decision: Rather than taking whatever he could find of value, he scribbled "Nothing to repossess" on his form, opened his wallet and handed the head of the household $25.
The Loose Cannon award is a toss-up among a group of overzealous religious residents in Ashkelon. Several months after the end of the Gaza war in January, they decided to let everyone in their neighborhood know of Shabbat's arrival by sounding private sirens from their balconies minutes before sundown on Fridays -- causing widespread panic by residents who mistook it for an air-raid siren.
One story that really takes the cake involved the trend of turning birthdays into full-scale productions. A Netanya resident decided this would be a lucrative sideline and offered his business premises as a venue for kids' parties. The problem: the venue in question was a pistol range. Fliers promised target shooting with live ammunition -- up to 51 .22 caliber bullets per child -- at $20 a shot.
The prize for nutty motorists is given to the fellow pulled over for zigzagging down the highway to Petach Tikvah at 5:30 a.m. Not only was the driver three times above the amount of alcohol permitted while operating a motor vehicle, he also was engaged in an activity with his passenger that is usually reserved for the back seat. The driver argued -- to no avail -- that he was zigzagging only because his lady friend had blocked his field of vision.
From the religious world, a prize goes to the competition between the two sons of the former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, who argued over what blessing should be recited over the popular kids' peanut snack Bamba.
In the category of Israeli ingenuity, one Israeli created a DNA test for steer that could track a stolen animal even if it already had been reduced to hamburger.
The most incredible dilemma of 2009 came during the Gaza war last January: How do you feed two frightened and famished lions solely with battle rations? As an army unit hunkered down near an abandoned Palestinian zoo amid the fighting, its brigade commander frantically sought to move the lions out of the war zone or find a way to feed them.
The Israel Defense Forces has some weird posts -- including two stand-up comedians and a full-time magician -- but who thought the army would need a lion keeper? One idea was to mobilize personnel from the Ramat Gan Safari into the IDF, then embed them with the infantry unit on special assignment.
Nobody knows exactly how the IDF did it, but by the time the army pulled out of Gaza the lions were in their cages and doing fine.
Continued (Permanent Link)
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